SOUTH AMERICAN football fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over the four challengers in Group A at this summer's Copa America, highlighting his best bets.
Altitude specialists Bolivia are Group A’s outsiders. La Verde have failed to progress from the Copa America group-stage in six of the last seven renewals and have returned just W2-D6-L28 in 36 competitive matches that have taken place away from their La Paz base since the start of 2010 World Cup qualification.
Bolivia triumphed in 1963 and reached the final in 1987, although both feats came when hosting, and like the majority of their continental rivals, their main focus is finding consistency and stability ahead of the start of World Cup qualifying next year. However, La Verde’s prospects continue to be hamstring by a wretchedly run federation.
Head coach Eduardo Villegas is in charge of his second stint with the nation but the signs have been far from promising; Bolivia drew with Central American minnows Nicaragua on home turf before suffering three consecutive defeats. The returning boss has spoken about upping the tempo in possession and has a preference for utilising the flanks in a 4-2-3-1.
Villegas held multiple mini training camps for each position independently in the lead-up to the tournament but his lack of quality options is likely to prove decisive. Just three players ply their trade outside of Bolivia with Chinese-based striker Marcelo Martins the standout star. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Carlos Lempe impressed against France in a recent friendly.
The experienced Alejandro Chumacero will be tasked with box-to-box duties in midfield whilst youthful centre-halves Adrian Jusino and Luis Haquin have the arduous task of keeping a far from watertight defence knitted together. Villegas might be one of Bolivia’s most successful-ever domestic coaches but overall, the odds reflect La Verde’s ability.
Brazil have claimed top honours every time they’ve hosted the Copa America but with just one semi-final appearance registered from their past three Copas and World Cups combined, the pressure is building on the Selecao in their quest to regain their status as continental top dogs in South America. Nothing but outright success will be accepted.
Head coach Tite has been handed a reprieve after Brazil exited the World Cup at the quarter-final stage last summer. The Selecao boss was handed a new contract that will take him through to Qatar 2022, as the federation look for stability and allow him to integrate an exciting set of young players such as Arthur, Lucas Paqueta and David Neres into his plans.
The ghosts of Belo Horizonte in 2014 haven’t been completely exercised but in three years under Tite’s watch, the Canarinho have fostered a settled squad and playing style, although the absence of Neymar has to be considered a blow. Indeed, it’s worth noting that five of Brazil’s past seven defeats have come in the absence of the petulant PSG superstar.
Nevertheless, his injury should allow Philippe Coutinho a more prominent playmaking role and could redress the midfield balance. And after all, Brazil have only been beaten once competitive on home soil since 1975 and head into this competition with Tite suffering just two losses in 36 outings as the Selecao’s head honcho.
Even so, whilst results since the World Cup have largely been impressive (winning nine of 10 games), performances have often underwhelmed. There is huge expectation on the hosts justifying their short price in the outright market and although Tite has selected a squad for the short term task of clinching Copa America glory, there’s little to appeal in minuscule pre-tournament prices.
Peru earned plenty of plaudits on their return to the World Cup stage last summer after a 36-year absence. La Blanquirroja were unable to negotiate a path to the knockout stages in Russia but Ricardo Gareca’s crew impressed in their three group games; Los Incas’ boss believes the nation is packed with potential and said that their “task is not yet over”.
The squad that travelled to the World Cup was youthful – only four players were aged over 30 – and it’s a similar story for the Copa. However, veteran forwards Paolo Guerrero and Jefferson Farfan are still leaned on despite their combined 69 years. Guerrero in particularly is pivotal with the side losing five of the last seven games the skipper has missed.
Results since Russia have been mixed; narrow defeats were incurred against the Netherlands and Germany, whilst the side easily beat regional rivals Chile. However, La Blanquirroja have suffered defeats at home to Ecuador and Costa Rica, as well as against El Salvador in USA, prompting suggestions Gareca’s 4-2-3-1 system had become too predictable.
Gareca has aware of the inconsistencies in performance, saying his side are at a stage where they can clearly beat or lose against any nation on the planet but the positives most definitely outweigh the negatives for the Argentine. In charge since February 2015, he’s built a squad with pace, panache and potential with particular strength in midfield.
Edison Flores, Cristian Cueva and Andre Carrillo add exciting punch ahead of Yoshimar Yotun and Renato Tapia, whilst Luis Advinncula is an obvious threat from full-back with his unrivalled speed down the right. Like the majority of their continental foes, defensive cohesion can be problematic but there’s real hope Los Incas can continue on the right track.
Peru have progressed past the group-stages in each of their last eight Copa America competitions, and although La Blanquirroja haven’t reached the final since 1975, they can boast third-placed finishes during their lean spells in 2011 and 2015. If they can reach their clear and obvious potential, another flirtation with the final-four could be on the cards.
Venezuela are the Copa America’s historically-worst performers. La Vinotinto’s best effort was a fourth-placed finish in 2011 – their only ever semi-final appearance – and having finished rock-bottom of the recent World Cup qualification schedule in South America with just two triumphs from 18 matches, it would be easy to write the current crop off.
However, despite the treacherous political landscape in the country, the national side are making promising progress under former goalkeeper Rafael Dudamel. Indeed, the latest FIFA rankings have seen Venezuela rise to an all-time high of 29th with the senior side improving following the impact of La Vinotinto’s impressive youth teams.
In 2017, Venezuela’s U20 squad finished runners-up in the World Cup in only their second appearance at that level before earning a silver medal in the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games with an U21 roster. Although the senior squad hasn’t been completely overhauled, an exciting batch of youngsters have been introduced to positive effect.
Highly-rated goalkeeper Wuiler Farinez, is joined by Joel Graterol, Ronald Hernandez, Yangel Herrera and Yeferson Soteldo in this Copa America squad having featured in 2017. Throw in the experience and quality of Salomon Rondon, Roberto Rosales and skipper Thomas Rincon and you have an intriguing platform and spine to build something special from.
Rondon is the key; the towering striker accounts for 45% of international goals within the squad and he’ll be central to the side’s style that relies on fast, direct counter-attacks and transitions. Darwin Machis, Junior Moreno and Jhon Murillo are handy options in the system, whilst Jefferson Savarino and Josef Martínez are also expected to make an impact.
Expect Venezuela to set-up in a 4-3-2-1– or 4-3-3 – with their biggest weakness undoubtedly at the back but particularly at centre-half. Dudamel has attempted to play three ball-winning players in midfield to combat his defensive concerns; it worked in an impressive March friendly success over Argentina but is largely untried in competitive action.
For a baseball-mad nation, football isn’t always the number one priority. But this Venezuela outfit have the capacity to cause a bloody nose or two, however, their inability to find consistency could ultimately prove their undoing. After toppling Argentina in 2019, La Vinotinto followed it up with a shock loss to Catalonia, highlighting their erratic efforts.
Group A Verdict
The host nation has reached at least the quarter-finals in each of the 10 editions of the Copa America since 1993, wining their group in eight of those occasions. Considering Brazil’s historical dominance over their continental rivals at home, the depth of ability in their squad and the reasonably kind schedule, it’s impossible not to see the Selecao progress.
Quotes of 2/9 (Sportingbet) to take top spot in the pool are far too skinny to entertain on Brazil and there’s little appeal in supporting Peru (8/1 Unibet) and Venezuela (16/1 SkyBet) as alternative options. Bolivia should prop up the pool and with just one third-placed side missing out on a knockout berth, Peru and Venezuela should be eying up a quarter-final place, although finding markets and selections to support such views is unfortunately futile.
Copa America – No bet in Group A